IDAHO FALLS – To see how they endure the rigors of a Spartan race, you might think Shannon Havins and Heather McVey would have hardened themselves into ultimate hardship, but there’s much more to it than that.
They worked in the information management directorate of the Idaho National Laboratory and were initially briefly acquainted. McVey is Executive Assistant to Director Robert Hillier, while Havins is Head of Identity and Access Management. They got to know each other better when they discovered they both went to the same gym.
Now both tractor tires can turn around, climb walls and run half marathons, all in the scorching heat. Havins has turned to powerlifting while McVey is more focused on endurance testing. But in the race, in the gym or at work, it is said that empathy is what distinguishes a winner.
For example, McVey wears packets of mustard or cucumber juice during a race, both of which are good sources of salt to prevent muscle cramps. She is not stingy when she sees someone who seems to be in need.
“You walk past people who you can tell that they are really having trouble,” she said. “You don’t run past and say ‘Ha! Ha!’ Instead, you pause and say, “Are you okay? Do you need fuel or salt? ‘”
McVey has been with CrossFit for eight years, Havins not that long. In fact, in 2018 she was overweight and suffered from both diabetes and chronic back pain from compression of the intervertebral discs. It was INL’s employee health program, Virgin Pulse, that got her on the path to where she is today.
“I could be Virgin Pulse’s figurehead,” said Havins.
It started by tracking the number of steps she took in a day.
“I took 2,000 steps a day, but I saw someone doing more. So I wanted to do more, ”she said. “Every time I pass someone, I’ve chosen a different destination.”
Now she goes to the gym six days a week.
“Fitness is this big part of my life now,” she said. “It just clicked for me because I’m competitive. I’ve lost nearly 100 pounds despite gaining some of it back as muscle mass. I no longer have back pain; I’m just a completely different person. ”
Spartan Race started in 2007 as a spin-off of the Death Race, a 48-hour endurance race. Founder Joe De Sena wanted to make it more appealing to a wider audience, and the first actual event took place in 2010. Today the races will be held in the US and 30 countries including Canada, South Korea and Australia.
Would-be participants have a number of races to choose from, such as a 3-mile sprint with 20 obstacles or a 30-mile run with more than 60 obstacles.
The obstacles vary from race to race, but these include jumping over the fire, climbing under barbed wire, climbing the wall, and crawling through mud. There is javelin throwing, rope climbing, jungle gymnastics and the “Hobie Hop”, in which a thick rubber band is placed around the ankles and they hop through successive hoops. Failure to fully overcome obstacles will result in a 30 burpee penalty, which a runner must take before continuing. (What is a burpee? It’s a fast moving squat thrust that will take your breath away.)
“If you don’t have it mentally, it’s very easy to get discouraged,” said McVey.
In a recent race she ran with two other gym members, Havins chose to stay and take penalties with them instead of chugging ahead. “We’re a family,” she said. “Nobody takes themselves too seriously or competes with anyone other than themselves.”
“These are great friends I really enjoy hanging out with,” said McVey. “That’s why you choose the people you do. I may break down, but someone will be there to help or encourage me. “